Social Contagion

Kazimir Malevich

“Every work of art is the child of its age and, in many cases, the mother of our emotions. “
Wassily Kandinsky (Concerning Art and the Spiritual)

“Ancient Greek words for blue signified the sea. In Tertullian and Isadore of Seville, blue referred to both the sea and the sky, much as the Greek word (bathun) and the Latin (altus) connoted high and deep by one word. The vertical dimension as hierarchy continues in our speech as blue blood for nobility, blue ribbons, and the many mythological images of ‘blue Gods’: Kneph in Egypt and Odin’s blue wrappings, Jupiter and Juno, Krishna and Vishnu, Christ in his earthly ministry like that blue Christ-man seen by
Hildegard of Binge.”

James Hillman (Alchemical Blue and the Unio Mentalis)

“…recent statistics which show that since the arrival of multi-channel press-button TV in the US, less than 50 per cent of American children under the age of 15 have ever watched a single programme from start to finish.”
Richard Kearney (Wake of the Imagination)

“Marx’s theory of historical repetition, as it appears notably in The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, turns on the following principle which does not seem to have been sufficiently understood by historians: historical repetition is neither a matter of analogy nor a concept produced by the reflection of historians, but above all a condition of historical action itself.”
Gilles Deleuze (Difference and Repetition)

“If we may be allowed the expression, it is not the resemblances, but the differences, which resemble each other.”
Claude Levi-Strauss (Totemism)

A number of anecdotal comments from psychologists and psychiatrists I know, and from ones I don’t, but which I have read or heard in social media, on TV, and in print, on the subject of the pandemic (sic) are all pretty similar in substance. The general point is that madness is all around us now. It is out in the open. That this is a kind of collective psychosis, really. And each time I hear or read this I wonder if this is something that was gradually building up and finally burst through the dam, or was it a sudden spike that erupted in response to the fear mongering and propaganda. And the answer is both. But the sudden spike is still something that had been building and growing in power. And it is also the unconscious associations with fever and plague. The image of the black death is something most westerners carry around.

Rebecca Salter


I know when I first heard of Bubonic plague as a schoolboy I was terrified but fascinated. I read everything I could find on the subject. I felt some dark seductive pull in this event, in a period of history which itself is described as dark. Even with all the history written on the plague of the 1340s, I still remember feeling this was a secret, somehow. The Black Death is estimated to have killed up to two hundred million people ( I doubt that number, but it clearly killed at the very least seventy million in Europe, North Africa and western Asia.

The scale of the Black Death of the mid 1300s is really too large to grasp in any satisfactory way.

“These children that come at you with knives, they are your children. You taught them. I didn’t teach them. I just tried to help them stand up. Most of the people at the ranch that you call the Family were just people that you did not want, people that were alongside the road, that their parents had kicked them out or they did not want…”
Charles Manson (Testimony, 1967)

Alexander Rodchenko, photo montage.

“Time after time, one witnesses the role of scapegoats reverting to human figures known variously as Canaanites, Gentiles, Jews, heretics, witches, infidels and – after the discovery of new continents by colonial empires – unregenerate ‘savages’. This should hardly surprise us when we consider the way in which the sacrificial rites of expiation, powerfully laid down in Leviticus as ‘Perpetual Law’ (Lev. 16: 29, 31), were later to find their way into the dramatic imaginary of Western religious culture. One thinks of the iconographic proliferation of demons and devils in medieval frescoes, murals, mosaics, paintings, illuminated manuscripts or liturgical furnishings. Here saints are tempted by satanic strangers… { } The Black Death, or bubonic plague,that brought many European cities to their knees in the fourteenth century coincided, tellingly, with the largest number of devil-in-hell scenes ever recorded. (Fourteenth-century Florence, let us not forget, also witnessed the manic period of Savonarola puritanism with its brimstone sermons and ‘Bonfires of the vanities’.) One only has to peer at Buffalmacco’s horrific depiction of the Inferno in Pisa to realize just how deep the apocalyptic fears of retribution ran. In sum, for saints to remain saintly, strangers had to be scapegoated.”
Richard Kearney (Strangers, Gods, and Monsters)

In a slight digression, it is interesting and perhaps something a key to unlocking today’s hysteria, to remember the way the Book of Ezekial in the Bible describes angels (there are actually three types of angels in a hierarchy of angels)….the Seraphim, and Cherubim, and Ophanim or Thrones. ).

Here is how Ezekial describes the Cherubim…“…they had the likeness of a man. Each one had four faces, and each one had four wings. Their legs were straight, and the soles of their feet were like the soles of calves’ feet. They sparkled like the colour of burnished bronze. The hands of a man were under their wings on their four sides; and each of the four had faces and wings. Their wings touched one another. The creatures did not turn when they went, but each one went straight forward. As for the likeness of their faces, each had the face of a man; each of the four had the face of a lion on the right side, each of the four had the face of an ox on the left side, and each of the four had the face of an eagle […] their appearance was like burning coals of fire […] and out of the fire went lightning.”
Ezekial 1.

Giorgio Vasari and Federico Zuccari (The Last Judgement, detail.) Santa Maria del Fiore Church, Florence.

There is a clear linkage back to Egyptian and Mesopotamian imaginaries. As Alexandra Korey writes, of angels, in a short but very informative article (Medieval Hell’s Angels in the Baptistry of Florence)…

“They are everywhere in churches and art galleries, and there are so many of these heavenly messengers packed into the Uffizi, it’s a wonder the roof stays on. The collective noun for so many is a ‘host’ or ‘choir’, but it might just as well be an ‘Uffizi’. But amidst all those feathered wings, few people stop to consider that the mythical beings that wound up as cute putti started out rather as rather more sinister creatures.”
End digression.

Chair, Songo early 19th century, Angola.

Now it is clear that the governments of the West are determined to keep people frightened. A recent poll was conducted by Kekst CNC, a subsidiary of the Puplicis Group, suggesting a vast majority of americans want the lockdown to continue because they believe the government undercounted the deaths from Covid19. In other words the exact opposite of what is true in all respects. A quick check reveals that the CEOs and advisory board of both groups are made up of bankers, former high ranking politicans (former PM of Sweden for one) and a consigliere for Walmart.

What *is* true, though, is that people are chronically afraid.

“The “west” of the United States became “wild,” then, only when European imperialism commenced the annihilation of the Native people, of the buffalo, and of the social and cultural structures of the Native nations. The hordes of aggressive, armed white intruders, backed by supporting “regular” troops and government functionaries, in short, made the region “wild.” I am quite sure that Native people in the Amazonian basin, in Peru and elsewhere in the Americas would heartily agree with Standing Bear. Everywhere the Europeans brought unimaginable death, destruction, exploitation and greed. Tragically, many South American Native groups are currently experiencing the birth of “wildness.””
Jack D. Forbes (Columbus and other Cannibals:The Wetiko Disease of Exploitation, Imperialism, and Terrorism)

Forbes, who was himself a Native American, writes of wetiko..“For several thousands of years human beings have suffered from a plague, a disease worse than leprosy, a sickness worse than malaria, a malady much more terrible than smallpox”.

Zhao Mengfu , Song Dynasty.

“Wetiko – often referred to as a mind virus – propagates the deep-seated illusion of seeing oneself desperately confined to the cage of a separated ego. From this perspective of isolation, others appear either as competitors or as prey. In a worldview in which fear is the basic condition, fight and exploitation seem rational, empathy ridiculous and sentimental. After 5000 years of patriarchy, 500 years of capitalism and 50 years of neoliberalism, Wetiko has come to define nearly every area of our (Western) world and lives. The reason we can accept an economic system celebrating the biggest-possible devastation of the natural world as “success” is due to our own infection with the virus. Wetiko has numbed our hearts, blurring our ability to perceive both the sacredness and the pain of life, both outside and inside ourselves. Innumerable beings are perishing due to this chronic inability to feel empathy. From the compulsive fixation on maximizing artificial values in the economy all the way down to the pandemic of broken and abusive love relationships, the Wetiko sickness has become so normalized it’s no longer even recognized as such. A miserable cult of self-obsession has eroded the social tissue of humanity and desecrated the Earth. As a result, fear is everywhere – fear of abandonment, fear of death, fear of life, fear of sexuality, fear of punishment, fear of the coming collapse. The benign front of bourgeois decency conceals a psychological basement in which the children of fear roam freely: permanent anger, general mistrust, addiction, depression, boredom, perversion, compulsive consumption and control and the secret or open fascination with violence.”
Martin Winiecki (Searching for the Anti-Virus | Covid-19 as Quantum Phenomenon, Kosmos Magazine 2020)

“One could say, then, that enchantment functions by means of a kind of repetition.”
Jane Bennett (The Enchantment of Modern Life Attachments, Crossings, and Ethics)

So two things to which I have continued to return are disenchantment and repetition. But repetition is complex, and there are registers and kinds of repetition. Someone asked me recently (apropos of an interview with David Fincher) about why certain directors did hundreds (often) of takes. My answer was not to wear down actors, though that might be a small part of it, but more it was simply that the process of repeating carried with it a spiritual quality. Yes, repetition is linked to trauma and Freud wrote extensively about that, but its also something to do with the unconscious (beyond trauma), with the truth of performance and of culture.

U.S. Army Field Hospital, Luxembourg, influenza ward. 1918 or 1919.

Repetition is mimetic, firstly. It is pre conceptual and it is something children, and even infants do, often just for pleasure. Children love to listen to the same story read to them over and over and over. Something that drives parents nuts. But for the child the experience of memory is tied in with mimesis, and with feelings. It is a kind of emotional mimetic experience. And bodily, and this suggests how interconnected are these things. It is also the pleasure of using memory for predictive purposes, and such familiarity, such early mastery, provides a sense of well being. It is anti anxiety.

There is something in how aggressively culture is under attack that suggests how frightened the ruling 1% have become. We now see digital fans in the seats of baseball games broadcast on TV. The audience hears manufactured crowds in the stands. The mimetic is simply being erased. Children are taught social distancing, but also tacitly to play only in the most structured and safe games and with only safe toys. Making toys from sticks is already feeling like something from a distant past. The audience is today more comfortable if the organic is only the image of the organic.

Also interesting here that this is linked to Adorno’s notion of disenchantment vis a vis Hediegger. For Adorno it was Heidegger’s inability to separate the identity of Dasein from the conceptual that was a source of mystification. As Peter Gordon wrote of it…” Adorno’s rather startling and controversial claim that Heidegger asserts an identity between the concept and the concept’s meaning. For Adorno, then, existential phenomenology would rank alongside Husserlian phenomenology as yet another specimen of the philosophy of identity. As we have seen, in Negative Dialectics Adorno assigns himself the task of breaking through the philosophy of identity to achieve what he called “the disenchantment of the concept.”A key to this task is the recognition that what a concept means is not internal to conceptuality but lies beyond the concept in the nonconceptual realm of the object. It is this nonidentity of the concept with its object that Adorno likens to a “ family scandal” in philosophy.”
Peter E. Gordan (Adorno and Existence)

But that is another digression.

Atta Kim, photography. (Beijing, China)

“What we see is almost invariably informed by prefabricated images. There is, of course, a fundamental difference between the image of today and of former times: now the image precedes the reality it is supposed to represent. Or to put it in another way, reality has become a pale reflection of the image. This reversal is evident at a number of levels. In politics, we find presidents and prime ministers being elected because of the media image they represent. In the media world, current affairs are brought to us more and more in the form of sensationalized visual packages or ‘pseudo-events’—to such an extent, indeed, that the phenomenon of news making is gradually being substituted for news reporting.”
Richard Kearney (The Wake of the Imagination)

I wrote in the last post about the loss of the avant garde. With that came the loss of radicalism in artists. Today artists are amazingly well mannered and docile. They eat whole foods, wear natural fibers, and practice moderation in all things. Sure, this is a gross generalization, but its also true. I think back to the sixties and seventies even when there was still an idea of refusal, an assumed rejection of the bourgeois norm.

“People who talk about revolution and class struggle without referring explicitly to everyday life, without understanding what is subversive about love and what is positive in the refusal of constraints – such people have a corpse in their mouth.”
Raoul Vanneigem (The Revolution of Everyday Life)

Francisco Goya (The Witches Sabbath) 1797.


“Aaron will then lay both his hands on the head (of the scapegoat) and over it confess all the guilt of the Israelites, all their acts of rebellion and all their sins. Having thus laid them on the goat’s head, he will send it out into the desert . . . and the goat will bear all their guilt away into some desolate place.”
Leviticus. 16, 20–2

The holy must cast out the impure. This is basic structure of the scapegoat. Sacrifice one and choose one to send
out alone into the wilderness.

“The role of scapegoats reverting to human figures known variously as Canaanites, Gentiles, Jews, heretics, witches, infidels and – after the discovery of new continents by colonial empires – unregenerate ‘savages’.( ) Giotto’s thirteenth-century mosiac in Florence, and many other depictions of devils which followed it in Pisa, Padua and San Gimignano, are even less indirect in their allusions to humans. They cover a wide variety of ‘undesirables’ considered damned under the Holy Roman Empire: heretics (Arius and the Simoniacs); infidels (Mahomet and Averroes); sodomites (skewered by furry goatish devils); transsexuals (in the Pisa and San Gimignano portraits of hell Lucifer is depicted with both the horns, beard and hairy chest of a goat- man and a vagina expelling hideous offspring); seducers (phallic-horned he-goats); temptresses (usually serpentine bodies with the face of Eve, as in Ucello’s Original Sin in the Convent of Santa Maria Novella in Florence); and Jews (portrayed as membranous goat-bat fiends ‘who hate daylight and love shadows’). As Lorenzo Lorenzi puts it in his study of demons in religious art: ‘Goats’ horns in Christian symbolism represent the iniquitous sin that is transformed into impotence’ (Psalm 75; Revelation 12: 3) But in addition to representing the homo selvaticus, enslaved to lascivious and bestial instincts, this symbolism also served as iconographic material for anti-Semitic scapegoating.”
Richard Kearney (ibid)

Colleen Ho

What is germane here is the compulsion to separate. There has been an increase in scholarly studies of childcare in medieval and/or pre industrial societies (Peter Laslett’s The World We Have Lost and the well known Phillip Aries’Centuries of Childhood are earlier examples from the 60s) and there are clearly effects from children removed from their immediate families. One saw in the U.S. and Australia the systematic removal of children from indigenous people and placing them in *Indian* schools. Today the border policing (and not just Trump, this was going on as much under Obama and Bush) separates familes, removing children, for this, like the prohibitions on indigenous languages, is a way to destroy culture. And it is miniature rituals of scapegoating. https://www.theatlantic.com/family/archive/2018/08/us-immigration-policy-has-traumatized-children-for-nearly-100-years/567479/

The forced separation of children from their mothers or fathers is both a conscious policy of cruelty and racist hatred, but also an unconscious expression of primordial scapegoating impulses. And maybe something more. I had an interesting discussion with a friend who is both a Jungian, but also from a Islamic family, and he said that the Western idea of having a cause is usually individualized and hence narcissistic. It is without memory, or enough memory. A purpose or cause is privileged and self involved if individualized. Now, this becomes abstract and maybe puerile, but its also not entirely wrong. The purpose for their life is tied to their idea of identity.

Nasreen Mohamedi

So beyond the obvious class inequalities involved, the rank arrogant privilege of the ruling class during the lockdown, where all the things denied the working class are allowed the rich because the rich are beyond regulation or policing, one is seeing the repression taking the form (from the oppressors pov) of individualized trauma, their own trauma. In other words there is an irrational (from the perspective of their interests) compulsive repetitive pattern that fuels a sense of generalized fear and confusion in the public but also among themselves. Now partly the spreading of confusion is the job of the PR firms and government propaganda agencies, and that is expected, but there is more here and certainly among the rich bourgeoisie, the court clerks to the empire of capital, there is increased visible psychological prostration. The desire to be appreciated by their overlords in a sense.

So the ruling 1 or 2 percent, those bent on resetting (sic) capitalism, are more openly insane than perhaps the ruling elite has been before. But there is also another aspect to the scapegoating and the preoccupation with sacrifice in contemporary society. And this is that popular culture has made an entire sub genre of sacrificial narratives. Films especially. This, it would seem, in order to normalize the empty sacrifice of the masses to the betterment of the rich. Its a class mediated and trivialized sacrifice. Though all scapegoating carries with it a kind of bad faith.

Iphigenia in Aulis , (House of the Tragic Poet, Pompeii)

“When violent fears go, so do monsters. Love is the casting out of fear.”
Richard Kearney (ibid)

“There is no wrong in love”.
Charles Manson (ibid)

The reason Kierkegaard said (I paraphrase) difficult questions require difficult answers was that the destructiveness of reduction is always lurking. The Hallmark Greeting Card level of bathos is like an infection. And even a Manson can sound like Rumi in the right context.

But plagues (pandemics, but ones treated like plagues) carry additional meanings. Here is a headline from today’s NY Times….“Hurricane Hanna made landfall in Texas. The southeast region in the storm’s path has been battered by the pandemic as virus cases surge in the state.” There feels like a meshing of plague and natural disaster in the writing. But that is something Rene Girard wrote about specifically. Girard notes that a social plague always accompanies the medical plague. And the cause and effect is often unclear. There is a sense in which the social plague sets up conditions that allow the medical plague to thrive. Now in the case of Covid, there is only a phantom plague, a marketed plague. It is the contagion equivalent of those digital baseball fans. So how does one calibrate the a social infection in this context?

J.W. Waterhouse (Circe Individiosa, 1892)


“…if the social plague were not always with us, as fear or as reality, in some form or other. This fact is not enough, however, to account for the more obscure and persistent aspects of the metaphoric configuration as well as for what appears to be the real need it fulfills with a great many writers. ( ) the plague is a transparent metaphor for a certain violence that spreads, literally, like the plague.”
Rene Girard (To Double Business Bound)

The scapegoating mechanism is so profound, so ubiquitous, that it is hard to tweeze apart ideas of origin or cause, from result. Girard, in the same essay, notes…“the scapegoat process, through religious myths, notably the myths of the plague, plays a major role in disguising and minimizing the danger its own potential for internal violence constitutes for a primitive community. This minimization must be viewed in turn as an integral part the protection that myth and ritual provide against this same violence.”

This leads back to the idea of social plague and its role, perhaps, in generating the medical plague. Or rather, without the internal violence and irrationality of the group — the society, the outbreak of a contagion would not so quickly become a scapegoating phenomenon. And this is linked to repetition, too. And it is Deleuze that expands on the types of repeitions — something I think is rather significant. And the registers of repetition, the qualities, are the purest expression of theatre as well.

“Let us return to the example of psychoanalysis: we repeat because we repress … Freud was never satisfied with such a negative schema, in which repetition is explained by amnesia. It is true that, from the beginning, repression was considered a positive power. However, he borrowed this positivity from the pleasure principle or from the reality principle: it was merely a derived positivity, one of opposition. The turning point of Freudianism appears in Beyond the Pleasure Principle: the death instinct is discovered, not in connection with the destructive tendencies, not in connection with aggressivity, but as a result of a direct consideration of repetition phenomena. ( ) Death has nothing to do with a material model. On the contrary, the death instinct may be understood in relation to masks and costumes. Repetition is truly that which disguises itself in constituting itself, that which constitutes itself only by disguising itself. It is not underneath the masks, but is formed from one mask to another, as though from one distinctive point to another, from one privileged instant to another, with and within the variations. The masks do not hide anything except other masks. “
Gilles Deleuze (Difference and Repetition)

Eduardo Arroyo

Allow me another lengthy quote here from Deleuze, from the same chapter.

“We should even overturn the relations between ‘covered’ and ‘uncovered’ within repetition. Take an uncovered or bare repetition (repetition of the Same) such as an obsessional ceremony or a schizophrenic stereotype: the mechanical element in the repetition, the element of action apparently repeated, serves as a cover for a more profound repetition, which is played in another dimension, a secret verticality in which the roles and masks are furnished by the death instinct. Theatre of terror, Binswanger said of schizophrenia. There, the ‘never seen’ is not the contrary of the ‘already seen’: both signify the same thing, and are lived each in the other. Nerval’s Sylvie already introduced us into this theatre, and the Gradiva, so close to a Nervalian inspiration, shows us the hero who lives at once both repetition as such and the repeated which is always disguised in the repetition. In the analysis of obsession, theappearance of the theme of death coincides with the moment at which the obsessed has command of all the characters of his drama and brings them together in a repetition of which the ‘ceremony’ is only the external envelope. The mask, the costume, the covered is everywhere the truth of the uncovered. The mask is the true subject of repetition. Because repetition differs in kind from representation, the repeated cannot be represented: rather, it must always be signified, masked by what signifies it, itself masking what it signifies.”

Deleuze has reversed Freud here (and I think this is the pronounced Jungian influence in Deleuze) by saying we repress because we repeat. I forget because I repeat. Certain things are only discovered through repetition. Are only lived through repetition. And here the myriad repetitions of theatre become more understandable. Deleuze also notes that repetition cannot be explained in terms of identity (so that Adorno digression was not so digressive after all).

Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri

In an age of pure propaganda, pure artificiality, the psychic mechanisms connected to scapegoating are modified. Rules in the social body are interrupted and deformed. The madness in the air is the product of an illogic that no longer can accommodate its own contradictions. The social contagion is not the Covid phantom, it is the ruling class and its own irrationality. The irrational that has now reached its own singularity. The migration of wealth is complete, or close enough to complete that this idea still holds. The project for the extreme net worth one percent is to recolonize the planet for itself. The mask of everything has slipped, and in a strange unconscious reflex it is being replaced for the masses by itty bitty dirty flimsy masks that are presented without irony as medical risk management. The bourgeoisie literally parade themselves in extreme virtue signaling like the revelers during the Black Death (see Bergman and his Seventh Seal). Celebrity *danse macabre*. The difference being that there is no real plague. A dance with death where there is no death. Even the travelling theatre company got to perform in Seventh Seal, while today the communal arts are mostly under prohibition. Fauci and Gates and Cuomo and Newsome et al, these are the new Puritans in one sense. The closing of London theatres in 1642 is not too far off today’s medical puritanism. And the goals feel not dissimilar, a controlled feudal system, a mixture of Oliver Cromwell and Philip K. Dick. But it is not even that, it is worse. This is a rebranding of TIA, Pondexter’s wet dream that was officially shot down but never went away. Total Information Awareness with an added bio capitalism injection (sic).

There was an attempt by media and marketing to posit the purification from plague. Dolphins in the canals of Venice, deer in the subways of Tokyo, etc. None of it was true, but the impulse is very telling. The plague purifies by extreme pestilence. It kills, but after it leaves, naturally, of its own accord as it were, the world is cleansed. The social fabric re-knits itself. Except far from enough were dying. Hence, the second stage of vaccination. Now, do Gates and company intend to sterilize via vaccination (as has happened in Africa and India under Gates Foundation programs)? It is certainly not unthinkable, but even if not the vaccination is the invisible branding of the poor. Trust me, the very wealthy will not be vaccinated under mandatory order. They are perceived as already clean.

Johan Hagemeyer, photography.

There is a lot more to say on this, but for now I wanted to return and wrap this up with re enchantment and repetition, with how children discover memory.
An interesting side bar here… http://www.dialogueforcommunity.com/2019/09/childrens-memory-of-performance-discovery-rediscovery-and-re-creation/

The destruction of culture, its exile onto screens, the erasing of mimetic experience, of creative repetitive fantasy and play is literally what has been targeted by the educational system today. It is the anti education system, really. And with the onset of dictatorial decrees the fate of children is to wither psychically as victims of the protectorate of madness.

“…imaginative metaphysics shows that man
becomes all things by not understanding them,
for when . . . he does not understand he . . .
becomes them by transforming himself into them.”

Vico (New Science)

Bernt Notke. 1463 (detail)

The literature of scapegoating starts with The Odyssey, but probably Shakespeare is the best example, along with Dostoyevsky. Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice is another example, it is there in Conrad, too, and in the films of Fassbinder. The irrationality of this moment’s madness was anticipated, too, by literature. Michael Wood has a great essay Kafka and The Third Reich.

“What Kafka appears to have foreseen, what he shows in extraordinary ingenious detail in his stories and parables and novels, is not only tyranny and arbitrary rule, but the precise movements of the mind by which people seek to make such a state intelligible to themselves – the brilliant, desperate ways in which they try to think intelligibly about the completely unintelligible.”

It is a remarkably articulate description of the uncanny that Kafka elicits. Adorno and Benjamin both wrote of Kafka, of the *space* he created, a psychic space, a theatrical space, and that it was the clearest expression of the space of our mind. The site of trauma. Auerbach’s classic Mimesis, in the first and most famous chapter, juxtaposes the Old Testament and Homer. And it is the space, again, of the Old Testament, that is recreated in Kafka. Homer is found in Tolstoy, and in many others, Dreiser and Mark Twain. But the elliptical darkness of that empty stage space, that is in Dostoyevksy and Melville, in nearly all great theatre from Buchner to Beckett to Pinter.

“‘The implausibility of their actions’, Theodor Adorno says of the Nazis in Minima Moralia, ‘made it easy to disbelieve what nobody . . . wanted to believe. Kafka’s fiction doesn’t show us any easy disbelief, but it does show us, again and again, what it is like to be faced with the unthinkable, and to fail to think it.”
Michael Wood (Kafka and The Third Reich)

The madness is unthinkable today, but it must be thought.

Mask, Shang Dynasty.

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Comments

  1. Hi, undereducated youth here, was wondering if you had any recommendations for translations of Kafka? Reading both those and Dostoyevsky for the first time.

  2. John Steppling says:

    https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2005/11/07/the-translation-wars

    the new trans of dostoyevski is excellent. With kafka…..lots of people sort of decided the old Muir translation was bad. So i read several of the newer ones and didn’t like them much. Perhaps i was conditioned by the Muirs. The Williams translation of Metamorphosis is beautiful though. But the muirs translated all of his work. So….Id try to read some in one trans and some in another. https://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2015/may/13/kafka-metamorphosis-translations

    and https://www.worldliteraturetoday.org/blog/translation/retranslating-kafka

  3. Why would you quote Charles Manson? I don’t understand. Do you think he was profound? Because if you do then you’re not as intelligent as I thought you were. And that makes me sad, because I like reading your blog.

  4. John Steppling says:

    im going to let you ponder that all by yourself, grasshopper.

  5. Gary Weglarz says:

    Great post John. Thanks. I needed a breath of sanity today.

  6. I’m following the podcasts as well as the blog; I wish all this were taking place in after-theater restaurants and bars, with a lot of smoking (haha well that’s dating myself for sure).
    The last podcast, with Guy Zimmerman, was particularly brilliant. Too much to comment on. Just wanted to say that as a performer (dancer) I never understood the push towards improv–including in dance. Although with dance, the idea of improv is, so I’m told, more connected to jazz music, and less connected to “theater” as a theater of text. So, jazz improv is a whole different thing. But for me, when I see improv dance, it completely lacks that “ceremonial” aspect you and GZ were talking about. At best, it’s cute, attractive, likeable. That’s it. Proponents also say it’s more “brave”. Well perhaps for the performer, but that forgets the audience.
    And of coruse, repetition is what makes a dancer, I think even more than an actor. Muscle memory. Connected maybe to the “betise” idea, but now I need to read Deleuze. Maybe even in terms of narrative and self-identity. Certainly trauma affects muscles and viscera, and those memories might even stay at that level–but they might be visible in some way you don’t even know about.
    ANYWAY, thanks for all these talks, etc., I rarely comment but I always read & listen. honestly, I don’t know how anyone even manages to think straight these days, let alone create. Muchisimas gracias.

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